Variable bushy feather star, Comaster Schlegelii
The Variable bushy feather star is commonly found concealed on shallow water reefs in the western Pacific Ocean. The parts that will be most often seen are the fern-like arms. The arms start at the base with five rays then begin to divide from there. The arms are flexible due to the multiple calcium filled joints, also called ossicle; therefore if needed these arms could coil up and provide protection to the main body. Interestingly, if one arm should fall off, or perhaps pulled off, then two will grow back in its place. Pinnules (branches) are grown on either side of every arm. The Variable bushy feather star holds its position on the reef by using claw-like appendages to cling. The star’s colors range from plain yellow to multicolored green and orange.
The habitat range includes Indonesia, Fiji, Japan, the Maldives and Papua New Guinea. The depth of discovery goes as deep at 16 feet.
The Variable bushy feather star is a suspension feeder. This means that the feather star reaches its arms out for food floating in the currents passing by. Plankton and other particles of food are caught by the tubed feet and then passed down the pinnules and onward to the mouth.
The Variable bushy feather star is similar to other feather stars in the respect of being either female or male, known as dioecious. Eggs, or gametes, are produced by specific branches and are fertilized externally. Once the gametes are fertilized and become larvae, they pass through several development stages and float amongst the plankton. They then settle on the seabed and use a stalk to anchor themselves. The juvenile feather star then breaks off from the stalk so that it can swim around independently.
Image Caption: A yellow variety of Comaster Schlegelii in East Timor. Credit: Nhobgood / Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)